Friday, May 28, 2010

Preserving traditional techniques

The onslaught of globalization along with several other factors is responsible for a loss of many traditional construction techniques that had been passed on from one generation to another by word of mouth. People, who had been living in rural areas for generations, had their own way of constructing and designing their houses with indigenous materials. But gradually that art is dying as more and more people are resorting to cement and concrete block construction. In view of the changing trends, perhaps it would not be wrong to admit the need for archiving those traditions in books, as well as museums.

Moreover, insufficient livelihood opportunities are a cause of huge migration to the urban centers that also results in many traditions, tangible and intangible both, getting lost in the dusts of time. Thus, this dependency of the rural populace on urban resources results in a loss of cultural heritage within the rural premise.

Zahir, a taxi driver in Karachi, explained the stone and timber construction at his village in Shangla, Swat that is at the end finished off with mud plaster. Just like it is done in Kashmir, women are responsible for carrying out the finishing, from the wall plaster, to the floor, as well as the partitioning cupboards. The roof in that area is made out of wooden slats, covered with mud, than a plastic sheet for waterproofing and another layer of mud on top that is at the end covered with almost sand-like salt, to seal the remaining holes for leak proofing, as well as insulation. This method of construction is pretty similar to Bagh, Azad Jammu and Kashmir, however, instead of using salt, the Kashmiri’s use tar coal (Luk as they call it) for the same purpose.

Interestingly, Kashmiri people use a mud plaster mixed with straw to increase the resilience of the structure, and when Zahir was asked if they do the same, he informed, “There’s only one old man in the village who knows this technique, but we don’t use it any more.”

This is the exact case referred before, a local technique that would ultimately get lost in time, as artisans who know how to mix that particular plaster, would no longer be alive. Moreover, just like in the rest of the rural areas of the country, prosperity means having a concrete block house, with cement plaster and all the modern paraphernalia. Therefore who cares about the old uncle, who only knows some dumb trick of mixing straw with mud to plaster a wall?

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